By Theodore Mattheiss
We all know that free speech is one of the most essential rights a person has in this country — so essential that it is woven into the fabric of our national identity — but when a person uses that right to promote hate, misinformation, and even violence, one has to ask: at what point do we, as a society, draw the line?
Considering the recent purging of Alex Jones from social media sites such as Facebook, finding an answer to this question is becoming more important.
Jones is a radio host famous for his far-right leanings, conspiracy theories, and general wackiness. His most well-known platforms are his own radio show, “The Alex Jones Show,” and “Infowars,” a website for peddling conspiracy theories and fake news.
Until recently, Jones had a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and iTunes, but all of that changed on Aug. 5.
Apple was the first company to ban Alex Jones, removing his podcasts from iTunes. Facebook and Spotify followed soon after, unpublishing his pages, removing his content, and deleting both his public and private profiles.
The reasoning behind this action is similar in each case: Jones violated the hate speech policies of the platforms. In a press release from Facebook, the company stated that Jones, in his videos posted to the site, used “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”
Facebook also said that the inaccuracy of Jones’ content was not the reason for its removal. I can’t help but wonder if that’s completely true. Jones getting the axe on all of these sites has been a cause for celebration among left-minded individuals, and his gross disregard for truth or reality is a big reason why. There are plenty of people out there who’d like to see his misinformation campaign silenced. But if that were the true reason for his removal, is that the right thing to do? What sort of door is being opened here?
It should be noted that while we’re discussing the right to free speech, that right only means that the government cannot silence anybody. It has no bearing on what private companies like Facebook are allowed to do.
Bill Maher, an HBO talk show host, recently brought up the Jones ban during a show and the audience began to cheer, but Maher wasn’t on board. He thinks that even though Jones certainly isn’t truthful, his continuing to have a voice is necessary.
“We’re losing the thread of the concepts that are important to this country,” Maher said. “Alex Jones gets to speak. Everybody gets to speak.”
I don’t think we should ignore the hate speech contained in what was banned from these sites, of course, and it’s fair to say that Jones did deserve the bans he got, but Maher makes a point.
It’s unsettling how our society is warming up to the idea of silencing certain people, and even cheering for the silence, because once it becomes acceptable to silence one person for their opinions, everybody with a controversial viewpoint runs the risk of meeting the same fate. The door is either open or it’s closed. I think it should stay closed.